Case 32 Odessa, Wash., December 10, 1952
According to an official case-summary (Ref. 7, Rept 10), two airmen in an F94 "made visual and radar contact with a large, round white object larger than any known type of aircraft" near 1915 PST on 12/10/52 near Odessa. The radar operator in the F-94 had airborne radar contact with the object for 15 minutes, and during that same interval, ground radar was also tracking it. The summary states that "the object appeared to be level with the intercepting F-94 at 26,000 to 27,000 ft," and it is pointed out that "a dim reddish-white light came from the object as it hovered, reversed direction almost instantaneously and then disappeared." It is stated that the skies were clear above 3000 ft The official evaluation of this incident is "Possible Balloon", although the report notes that no upper-air research balloon was known to be in the area on this date. The principal basis for calling it a balloon was the observers' description of "large, round and white and extremely large", and it was remarked that the instrument package on some balloon flights is capable of yielding a radar return.
Discussion. -- To conclude that this was a "Possible Balloon" just on the basis of the description, "large, round and white and extremely large", and thereby to ignore the instantaneous course reversal and the inability of a 600-mph jet to close with it over a period of 15 minutes seems unreasonable. We may ignore questions of wind speeds at the altitude of the object and the F-94 because both would enjoy the same "tail-wind effect". In 15 minutes, the F-94 would be capable of moving 150 miles relative to any balloon at its altitude. On the other hand, airborne radar sets of that period would scarcely detect a target of cross-section represented by the kinds of instrument packages hung on balloons of the Skyhook type, unless the aircraft were within something like 10 or 15 miles of it Yet it is stated that the F-94 was pursuing it under radar contact for a time interval corresponding to an airpath ten times that distance. Clearly, categorizing this unknown as a "balloon" was incompatible with the reported details of the case.
On the other hand, there seems no reason to take seriously Menzel's evaluation of this Odessa F-94 sighting (Ref. 25, p. 62). Menzel evidently had the full file on this case, for he adds a few details beyond those in Ref. 7, details similar to those in Ruppelt's account of the case (Ref. 5) :
"Dim reddish-white lights seemed to be coming from windows and no trail or exhaust was visible. The pilot attempted to intercept but the object performed amazing feats did a chandelle in front of the plane, rushed away, stopped, and then made straight for the aircraft on a collision course at incredible speed."
He indicates that after the pilot banked to avoid collision he could not again locate it visually, although another brief radar contact was obtained. Having recounted those and other sighting details, Menzel then offers his interpretations:
"In the east, Sirius was just rising over the horizon at the exact bearing of the unknown object. Atmospheric refraction would have produced exactly the phenomenon described. The same atmospheric conditions that caused the mirage of the star would have caused anomalous radar returns."
Now stars just above the viewer's horizon do scintillate and do undergo turbulent image-displacement, but one must consider quantitative matters. A refractive excursion of a stellar image through even a few minutes of arc would be an extremely large excursion. To suggest that a pilot would report that Sirius did a chandelle is both to forget realities of astronomy and to do injustice to the pilot. In fact, however, Menzel seems to have done his computations incorrectly, for it is easily ascertained that Sirius was not even in the Washington skies at 7:15 p.m. PST on 12/10/52. It lay at about 10 degrees below the eastern horizon. A further quite unreasonable element of Menzel's explanation of the Odessa case is his easy assertion that the radar returns were anomalous results of the "atmospheric conditions". Aircraft flying at altitudes of 26,000 ft do not get ground returns on level flight as a result of propagation anomalies. These extreme forcings of explanations recur throughout Menzel's writings; one of their common denominators is lack of attention to relevant quantitative factors.